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Robots Ready to Take on Warehouse Workload

An Agoura Hills company is changing how goods are moved in large warehouses with two robots it invented. InVia Robotics makes the Grabit and Transit robots, the names being self-explanatory of each machine’s function. The Grabit picks up boxes, bottles, cans and other items from a shelf and brings it to Transit for transport to a packing area. It’s all done automatically, thanks to sophisticated software and algorithms. Chief Executive Lior Elazary said the robots were created to address difficulties of staffing large warehouses and to make the process of shipping goods less expensive. The initial market for Grabit and Transit is warehouses used by online retailers, but Elazary said he foresees other settings such as manufacturing and pharmaceutical plants. “There are lot of different uses for these robots,” he added. While the thought of robots operating on their own in a warehouse may sound like it would be complicated, Elazary said the devices are simple and augmented with artificial intelligence and visual recognition algorithms. Most of the parts that go into them are made in the United States with final assembly performed in Agoura Hills. Then they undergo five days of testing in a warehouse setting. The company began making the robots last year. Grabit is designed to pick up a variety of items ranging from as small as a pack of gum all the way to 30 pounds using suction cups. It can extend up to 8 feet in height and has an open platform on which to place multiple items before bringing them to the Transit robot. Transit then delivers the packages to a shipping area where human employees take over. “It makes it a very efficient structure and a very fast structure so they can handle the throughput,” Elazary said. When the robots are first deployed in a location they scan all the items with barcodes or quick response codes and link with an internal database and an image of the item. InVia has delivered about 20 of the robotic systems, most of which are in pilot programs. One customer using the robots is LD Products, a Long Beach-based online retailer of printing supplies. While the warehouse in Long Beach uses traditional automation employing conveyor belts, Chief Executive Aaron Leon chose InVia for a new location in Pennsylvania. InVia’s business model is leasing the robots to its customers and then charging them per item picked and transported. The average cost is about 10 cents per pick, Elazary said, as compared to 80 cents with no automation and 25 cents with some automation in a warehouse, Elazary said. Machinist Apprenticeships Hawker Pacific Aerospace has received preliminary approval to offer an apprentice program certified by the Department of Labor that will allow those who complete it to get a job throughout the country. The Sun Valley company performs maintenance, repair and overhauls on landing gears and reverse thrusters at its facilities. The company is owned by a subsidiary of German air carrier Deutsche Lufthansa AG. The company has chosen a hybrid approach to its apprentice program and will focus on three occupations – machine operator, computer-controlled machine tool operator and grinder set up operator. Goodwill Southern California served as the intermediary to keep the Labor Department certification process on track, completing it in about six months. “The idea is that you will adopt apprentices and begin to run them through your program,” said Tracy DiFilippis, sector strategy manager with Goodwill in Los Angeles. As a national program, those completing the apprenticeship can go anywhere in the U.S. and capitalize on their experience to get a job in the manufacturing sector needing their skillsets, DiFilippis said. “It’s the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree,” she added. Registered apprenticeship programs are few and far between, and being owned by a German parent, Hawker Pacific is one of the rare programs with an international connection, DiFilippis said. Hawker Pacific still awaits final approval from the executive director of the Office of Apprenticeship in the Labor Department before it can start taking on apprentices for machining positions. Goodwill got involved in its role as a workforce development provider in Los Angeles County. “Hawker would tell you that without us in the middle they would not have this done today,” DiFilippis said. “There is no way they would have achieved this on their own without us to facilitate it.” Staff Reporter Mark R. Madler can be reached at (818) 316-3126 or mmadler@sfvbj.com.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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